I was recently asked what my biggest mistake in leadership has been. I knew the answer immediately. I overstayed my welcome in two jobs. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Let’s talk.
One of the arts of good leaders is that they are discerning about the seasons of their work and leadership. Most everything in life is defined by seasons. Your body is defined by seasons. Leadership is defined by seasons. Even your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your friends is defined by seasons. Over time, all these important parts of your life vary in tone, in emphasis, in style, and in meaning. It is all as it should be, but the wise pay attention to the changes.
One of my good friends is a man named Richard Scrushy. He is the famous founder and one-time CEO of HealthSouth. He told me that he knew he had missed a season change. He knew that he was supposed to step down as the CEO of HealthSouth long before he did. He stayed, though, because he had goals he wanted to achieve before he left. During that time, a conspiracy within the company began revealing itself. Scrushy had nothing to do with it, but he almost went to prison over it, and it cost him tens of millions of dollars to prove his innocence.
As he said to me, “I missed a season change in my life, and it almost killed me.”
I had the same experience on a much smaller scale. I was leading a large organization and I sensed my season was up. My team and I had accomplished much, but I just had a strong certainty that my time was at an end. I should have resigned with peace and good feeling all around.
Instead, I stayed to finish up some projects that were important to me. It was during that time that a number of factors worked together to harm me. Instead of leaving with peace and on my own terms, I ended up leaving with ill-feeling and on the terms of people who, frankly, didn’t know what they were doing. It was my fault. I over-stayed my season.
It is a mistake I won’t repeat. I don’t want you to make this mistake either. The seasons of our work leadership lives are defined by the covenants we’ve made, the goals we’ve set, the potential we see, and how we feel and function in our roles.
It is all so personal that I can’t give rigid rules for determining your seasons. I can say that you have to pay attention. You have to swallow your pride and ask if all pistons are firing in you as you do your job. You have to look at the reality of the situation you are in and determine whether it has become untenable, if factors have changed making your hopes impossible. There are a dozen factors to consider. It all comes down to you knowing that you are in place and you knowing approximately how long you ought to be in that place.
Here’s the lesson in brief. Live fully and joyously in every season of your life and leadership. Know when those seasons change. Know when a given role is no longer supposed to be part of your story. Know when to graciously move on to the next stage of your destiny. Overstaying your welcome is a bruising and unnecessary experience. Don’t do it.